How OCD Affects Women: Daily Struggles and Coping Mechanisms

How OCD Affects Women: Daily Struggles and Causes

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Individuals who have OCD experience distress over these obsessions and compulsions, which interfere with their ability to live a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that the development of OCD may be due to a complex interplay between environmental upbringing and genetics.


Mainstream media has popularized OCD as being a disorder of germophobia wherein someone might wash their hands repetitively and too often. Fear of contamination is a common theme in OCD. Other themes, such as feeling unable to cope with uncertainty or wanting to avoid anything that leads to a loss of control, are also common themes. A more complex reality extends beyond these common perceptions; women often experience OCD with a unique set of challenges and symptoms.


Differences in Women


Statistics evidence these differences quite clearly. Women are 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with OCD, and they are more likely to develop the debilitating condition later in life. Women are more likely to have comorbid diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Obsessions and compulsions surrounding cleaning and contamination are the most common themes women experience. Also more common are obsessions and compulsions related to somatic sensations. Pregnant and postpartum people are more likely to experience OCD symptoms, and roughly 20-42% of women experience a worsening of symptoms leading up to their period. The specific challenges that women afflicted with OCD face have profound implications for their interpersonal relationships. The strain of managing OCD symptoms can disrupt the dynamics of relationships, often leading to increased stress and misunderstanding between partners.


Effects of OCD on Relationships


Individuals diagnosed with OCD most commonly face interpersonal difficulties due to their tendency to self-isolate, struggle to communicate, and experience greater than average emotional strain, and these can become worse as women’s hormones shift.

Embarrassing compulsions, such as repetitive handwashing or locking and unlocking doors multiple times when leaving the house, can lead OCD sufferers to avoid social situations all-together. Communication difficulties of the diagnosis can lead to upset and confusion, as vocal reassurance may worsen the individual’s symptoms. Further, general emotional strain caused by the disorder can bleed into the relationship, leading to fights and unhealthy avoidance.


Potential Causes of OCD


While research surrounding the causes of OCD remains underway, scientists find that its development is influenced by a combination of environmental, neurological, and genetic factors. OCD is a heritable condition. There is a 40-50% likelihood that the disorder will develop if it runs in the family (parents). That statistic occurring in tandem with stressful life circumstances or events, such as a serious physical ailment, unstable or dangerous home environment, or the death of a loved one can further increase the risk of the development of OCD.


Scientists continue to conduct research surrounding OCD and its unique presentation in women, as well as its causes. With the right combination of treatment, which often includes therapy and medication, individuals diagnosed with OCD can grow to improve their relationships and gain healthier lifestyles.

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